#Girl Gaze: Petra Collins

I think the female gaze is completely unlimited in terms of topics, it’s definitely not limited to feminism and femininity. Moreover, Jansen (2017) in her book Girl on Girl, Art and Photography in the age of the Female Gaze, underlines the fact that  “‘Female gaze’ isn’t just the liberally applied term for a female photographer (…) It is not a question of gender or sexuality. It’s a whole new way of seeing the world, differently to the rigid, vertical male gaze that dominates”(Jansen, 2017).

She stresses out that it is important that the “female gaze” is not defined as the counterpart to the objectifying “male gaze”. According to her, a female gaze “is a gaze that seeks to question why we look at women the way we do, what we can learn by looking at women in different ways, and how by looking at images of women photographed by women we can begin to undo eons of objectification”. 

Petra Collins, as one of the most outspoken and well known photographers under this female gaze interpretation, whose distinct aesthetic has made her one of the leading voices of the movement many are calling New-Wave Feminism, and created campaigns for Gucci, Nordstrom and Adidas, among others (The Business of Fashion, n.d.). 

Looking at a Petra Collins’ photographs feels like standing in front of an oven on a hot summer day: the heat a reflection of those emotions that swirl inside us in our early adolescence; of horror and confusion of a budding sexuality, of finding our place in the world (Garcia, 2017).

Anna and Kathleen, 2016. Petra Collins

“My family photos were a big thing that I didn’t think would end up being in the book, but I ended up realising a lot about myself throughout those images,” Collins remembers. “I think the most interesting thing [about putting her 2017 released book Coming Of Age together] was seeing the progression of my thoughts, how I felt about myself, and how I felt about women.” 

Petra Collins On Coming Of Age & The Female Gaze, Interview with Laia Garcia

She adds, 

“My photos started kind of very violent and dark because I was sort of confused as a young woman with how to take images of other women that wouldn’t exploit them.” 

“The trip was so pivotal for me because it was a point where I was so self-conscious and reckless with my body,” she recalls, “I hated being looked at, I hated not being looked at, and then having to go on this trip where I was fully naked but not sexualised, and I was taking part in creating these photos that I loved.” 

She adds, 

“It sort of jump-started me, [made me] realise that I didn’t need to be trapped in anything I didn’t want to be trapped in, and I actually ended up moving to New York after that. I really saw [what] creating art and what photography could do, especially to the subject.”

Anna Tear, 2015. Petra Collins

Her interest in seeing a more accurate representation of herself and the young women was — and still is — one of the original driving forces behind her work. Collins rose to fame at the same time as feminism went mainstream, and conversations about the male gaze — and the development of a so-called female gaze. When thinking about the artists that have become part of this aesthetic, it’s not difficult to see Collins’ influence in their work. 

In a conversation with Refinery29 in 2017, Petra Collins suggested that: 

“I’m so cautious of being boxed into that one area. Obviously it’s important to have different perspectives in photography but I don’t think that necessarily means [you have to] create a whole genre?,” 

she says, and we can tell this is a topic she feels strongly about. 

“I just don’t like how the female gaze is so gendered and it’s just put on. Like, I see so many articles out there that are like female gaze photographer, and I’m like, no, I’m an artist and I take photos, and just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I have to be labeled that way.”

It’s an effect of the commercialisation of feminism that’s so pervasive in so many aspects of our culture, and one that she’s keenly aware of how it works and how she fits into the whole puzzle (Garcia, 2017). 

“Personally, I think it’s more important to change the landscape and create something new that’s inclusive. Like if I get hired for a job then [the focus is on] a female photographer, or when I’m shooting a campaign they’ll label it as something that isn’t a campaign like they want to use my name or they say like a story by instead of oh I just shot a campaign.”

When Collins first caught my eye was from when I was doing research on Glen Luchford’s Gucci Bloom fragrance campaign. Petra Collins made an appearance on this dreamy, flower-filled campaign as a model but I soon found that her own works are equally expressive and dreamlike. 

GUCCI Bloom | Ph. Glen Luchford | Art Direction Christopher Simmonds

In the 2017 Gucci Eyewear collaboration, Petra Collins created a film as the campaign where she drew on her childhood and Hungarian heritage, expressing a whimsical celebration of Gucci glasses. I think the colourful backgrounds and lights worked dramatically well which established a fantasy fashion harmony with the world of kids’ imaginations. Yet in her later exhibition of expressions of her own personal journal in life, the contrasting lights and the dreamy effects of the close up shoots could be reinterpreted in my own compositions; The use of outdoor photography captures the model under natural light, this enhanced the natural feel to the shots, and is something that I intend to explore in my test shots for the campaign later on.

Gucci 2017 Eyewear collection, directed by Petra Collins

Reference list

Abbozzo, M. (2019). Male and Female Gaze in Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.margheritaabbozzo.com/pdf/atti.pdf [Accessed 1 Jul. 2020].

Garcia, L. (2017). Petra Collins On Coming Of Age & The Female Gaze. [online] www.refinery29.com. Available at: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2017/11/179047/petra-collins-interview-coming-of-age-book?utm_source=pinterest&utm_medium=pinterest_share [Accessed 21 Jul. 2020].

Jansen, C. (2019). GIRL ON GIRL : art and photography in the age of the female gaze. S.L.: Laurence King Publishing.

The Business of Fashion. (n.d.). Petra Collins is part of the BoF 500. [online] Available at: https://www.businessoffashion.com/community/people/petra-collins.